SAN DIEGO – There were a couple of big differences for rookie safety Matt Johnson as he walked off the practice field Monday at Chargers Park.
For starters, he was in full pads, something he hasn't done much of at all during training camp because of a lingering hamstring injury.
Secondly, he had a cut on his nose and some blood had trickled down his face, and even some on his hands, too.
And those are some of the little things the Cowboys were hoping to see more of from Johnson, who has spent much more time off the field, than on it, since being drafted in April in the fourth round.
But he practiced on Monday against the Chargers, and with that, he deemed it a good start.
"They kind of limited my numbers a little bit," Johnson said of the training staff. "But it's a lot more than I've ever been able to do. That's good. It felt great. The hamstring felt great and it was good to get some hits in there."
Johnson is trying to earn a backup safety spot behind starters Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh. Special-teams ace Danny McCray is expected to get one of the backup spots, meaning Johnson is battling with Mana Silva, Eddie Whitely and possibly even Mario Butler, who has played some cornerback as well.
When asked if he thinks he will make his debut Saturday night against the Rams, Johnson's eyes lit up with hopeful excitement.
"Oh man, I think so," Johnson said. "That's the goal as long as we play it smart."
And the Cowboys have been overly smart and cautious about the hamstring injury to Johnson, one of many players this camp that have experienced such a setback, along with Miles Austin, DeMarcus Ware, Nate Livings, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer.
The injury is only half of Johnson's frustrations this summer. He couldn't participate with the team until the last minicamp practice on June 14 because of school obligations. Johnson was ineligible to practice because classes at his alma mater, Eastern Washington, hadn't concluded until mid-June.
"I've had a lot of family and friends tell me "you can only control what you can control. I have to stay in there, mentally. But it's been super frustrating. The biggest thing for me is seeing all the work these guys are putting in, and here I am sitting on the sidelines."
He's on the field now. And that's where Johnson hopes to stay.